Rashomon. Directed by Akira Kurosawa & Written by Shinobu Hashimoto & Akira Kurosawa.
Preconceptions: Despite my regular viewings of and enjoyment in the old black and white flicks, I can be a real philistine about them. Instead of being able to enjoy them on their own merits, I spend a lot of time thinking about how this might have been cool when it was released but now it's something I've seen re-done endlessly. This is particularly true of movies by directors that have revolutionized film making. While intellectually I see how some of these flicks are important, it doesn't make them any more interesting to watch. I was afraid that Rashomon was going to be one of these and that watching it would make me feel like an ingrate. Also, while I like Seven Samurai okay, I have a barbarian fondness for the Magnificent Seven. But, as I mentioned last week, Judge John Hodgman strongly suggested (which should be taken as an order to mere mortals) that his audience watch this movie. He isn't someone I'd argue with lightly (there is a real danger of being sawed in half).
General Review: For those of you who haven't obeyed the Judge, first off, shame on you. Second off, Rashomon is basically about the unreliable narrator. We are told the story of a bandit attacking a married couple from a number of different perspectives at a trial, all of them varying wildly from each other (think P.O.V. from Batman the Animated Series). To my great surprise and delight, Rashomon really held up.
To say that Kurosawa is an excellent director is completely pat and meaningless at this point. I wasn't surprised that the movie was well directed, I expected that. I was surprised by how interesting and cool it was, even though I knew the gimmick and directorial style ahead of time. I'm often not particularly interested in seeing the same story over and over again, Groundhog Day is one of my most hated movies and Cause and Effect (Star Trek: TNG) sets my teeth on edge. Rashomon did not. Each retelling of the story is markedly different from the previous one and the acting and directing are also distinct from scene to scene. The part with the medium is particularly eerie.
I've been told by more than one person that I'm overly fussy about score. I'm not at all snobby about music in general, because I know basically nothing about it. However, when a score overpowers the scene, it throws me into wild temper tantrums. And while this still certainly happens in modern movies, overall it was way worse in classic films. Hitchcock said (and I'm paraphrasing pretty badly here) that he never understood why the music director would ask him to come hear pieces of the score, because by that point it was already written and he had no control over it anyways. That's the feeling I get with a lot of older movies, that the director just had to make due with whatever score was flung at him. When the opening strains of Rashomon blared at me, with terrible comic cues and all, I thought I was in for a world of suffering. Not the case. The overbearing score was a deliberate choice and as we get closer and closer to what actually happened the score is stripped down further and further. It was a thoughtful piece of work and a more skillful use of music than I see in a lot of modern movie.
While for the most part the acting was top notch, I gotta say Toshiro Mifune drove me nuts. Remember my complaints about the crouching and overacting of Alexander Granach in Nosferatu? You can basically cut and paste those here. Mifune jumps around ridiculously and has a harsh, un-infectious laugh that reminds me distinctly of Krankor in Prince of Space. The entire story would have worked better for me if he was a stronger, more dangerous character. Machiko Kyo and Masayuki Mori helped fill the gap, however. Kyo's performance varied the widest from scene to scene and she managed to play both vivacious hellcat and fainting virgin convincingly. Mori had a coldness that got me int the guts.
It's no surprise that Rashomon is utterly gorgeous. Kurosawa managed to portray the beauty of his setting without the tiniest bit of colour. I've seen plenty of modern spectacles that simply don't manage to show us anything this pretty. Something I did miss from today's movies was the tightly choreographed fight scenes. I guess making them be basically flailing slap fights is more realistic, but it wasn't particularly interesting to watch. And there was more than one of them. They were the only points where my attention drifted.
Don't be surprised if you see a couple more Kurosawa flicks here in upcoming weeks, because this movie has convinced me to give him the Hitchcock treatment and work my way through his Filmography. Thanks again to the good Judge!
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